Anna waited till she was alone in her cabin before she gave way to tears. Even the Hadleys had gone easy on remonstrating her for insisting on riding. It wasn’t so much the shock of what had happened, but the thought of a foal sired by that enormous black horse growing inside the relatively small body of her beloved Star. Might it kill her? Mr Forsyth was a veterinary surgeon, he would know, but how could she ask him? It was quite embarrassing. She stripped off her clothes and examined herself in the mirror. There were bruises on her breasts, ribs, and across her hip bones. She bathed herself all over, careful of the tender places. It was even warmer since they set off from Las Palmas and she found another cotton dress with short sleeves, in cream this time, with a pretty lace edging to the neckline and sleeves. Like the other, it was really only a day dress, but her evening wear was far too warm for this hot weather. She caught her reflection in the mirror and the contrast between the pale material and her tanned face and arms was quite marked. She knocked on the inner door to the Hadleys’ cabin to let them know she was ready, quite grateful they were well enough to come to the dining room now, so she wouldn’t have to face it alone. The whole ship would be talking about the incident.
As she and the Hadleys took their seats, several people asked Anna if she was recovered. It was the first time she talked to many of them; strange how an unexpected crisis broke down barriers. She didn’t much enjoy being the centre of attention, however, and was quite relieved when Mr Forsyth entered the dining room, and in his turn, became the focus for concern. His right arm was in a sling.
“It’s not as serious as it looks,” he said to one of the army officers. “A bit of tendon sprain. Dr Donaldson thought it would be sensible to keep it out of action for a while.”
He came directly over to their table and spoke first to her chaperones.
“Good evening, Mr and Mrs Hadley. I’m very sorry about the incident this afternoon. It must have been very distressing to watch.”
They seemed quite taken aback at his coming to speak to them, and Mrs Hadley murmured something that Anna couldn’t make out in response. Then he turned a concerned gaze on her, and his voice softened noticeably, or was it her imagination? “Mrs Thurston, how are you?”
“Not too bad, thank you, Mr Forsyth. I’m sorry about your arm. I hope it will heal up quickly.”
“Thank you. I’m sure it will.” He nodded to the Hadleys and returned to his own table.
Later that evening, Anna brushed out her hair, but otherwise delayed preparing for bed. She sat by the connecting door and waited until she heard Mr Hadley’s snores and his wife’s heavy breathing. Quietly, she left her cabin by the outer door and made for the stables. It was more difficult at night, and she had to be very cautious on the steep steps that led to the lowest deck not to catch her skirt in the dim light. The metal hand rails were cold to the touch and she was glad to reach the warmth of the stable area. No one was about as she made her way past the rows of army horses to see her beloved Star. But where was she? Surely they’d not left her behind on the island? The big black horse was still there, but a different horse was in Star’s stall. Then she heard a whinny she recognised. They must have moved her and she’d walked right past without noticing. She found the stall and stroked the mare’s head and rested her face against Star’s cheek with her arms round her neck.
Then she heard footsteps and glanced round. It was Mr Forsyth, carrying a bucket. He stopped when he saw her, clearly surprised.
“Hello, Mrs Thurston. I’m just freshening the water for Star.”
“I hope your injury’s not too painful, Mr Forsyth.”
“Nothing’s broken, it’ll heal in a week or so. How are your bruises? I know you must have some.”
“Not too bad. It all happened so quickly. Thank you for taking action when you did.”
“I should have read the signs much sooner. The lads mentioned some restlessness among the mounts and I put it down to the discomfort and noise of the ship. It should never have happened. I’m very sorry.”
“I…er…” she began.
“I wanted to ask something. It’s a bit…”
“Is it about their mating? There’s no need to be embarrassed. What did you want to know?”
“Your horse…Jet’s so enormous. Is it safe for Star to carry his foal?”
“Nature has a way of adjusting…it’s likely that the foal will be…an in-between size, let’s say. If it’s male it may be on the big side, if female it may take after Star more. We’ll have to wait and see. But as to being safe for Star, I think she’ll be fine…she’s a sturdy animal.”
“Oh, good…that’s all I needed to know. What a relief.” It must have shown on her face, for he was smiling at her and those blue eyes were looking at her in a way that made her think perhaps he didn’t dislike her as much as she’d first thought. She broke the eye contact first.
“I best get back to my cabin before I’m missed. Goodnight, Mr Forsyth.”
“Goodnight, Mrs Thurston.”
She turned away and began to walk back the way she’d come. She sensed he was watching her, but didn’t dare look back to find out. There was a tightness in her chest. Was it the heat? She knew it wasn’t. It had been Lottie who’d asked her that question about love. She hadn’t known then. She did now.